On the Farm: Chicken Farmers of Saskatchewan’s New Entrant Program helped the Colemans fulfill their dream
Elise Coleman’s daughters exhibit the same passion for raising livestock that she possessed at their age.
Elise and her husband, Jesse, recently shipped out their third flock of broiler chickens.
Each time a new batch of chicks arrives, she sees pure joy in the faces of five-year-old Tori and three-year-old Leah.
“They are farm kids,” said their proud mother.
“I think chick drop-off day might be as exciting as Christmas for them.”
The Coleman family may be new to the chicken business but raising livestock is old hat for Mom and Dad.
Elise grew up on a mixed livestock operation near Fox Valley, Sask. It was primarily an ostrich farm when she was young but she also raised sheep and goats.
“I thought every kid had to do chores before school. It was just part of regular life,” she said.
Jesse was raised on a grain farm at Meskanaw, Sask., where the couple resides today. When he was 12, he bought some pigs and later dabbled in raising sheep and cattle before earning his agriculture degree at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon.
The couple met at university where Elise was getting her nursing degree. The plan was to eventually get back to farm life.
Jesse had a variety of jobs after university including welding hopper cones, working at a diamond mine and helping out on a Meskanaw area feedlot before forming a partnership with a local grain farmer.
He is now a fifth-generation producer farming land that has been in his dad’s family for more than a century.
Elise is working full-time as a registered nurse in nearby Melfort, Sask., and helping out on the farm.
It is a busy life.
“We kind of pass in the doorways some days with the shift work,” said Elise.
“It has been early mornings and late nights.”
The couple originally started raising sheep but sold them to Elise’s brother when an opportunity arose in the broiler chicken industry.
Friends in the chicken business told them about the New Entrant Program offered by Chicken Farmers of Saskatchewan.
Jesse and Elise devised a business plan, met all of the other criteria of the program and ended up winning the competition, entitling them to purchase a 20,000-bird quota.
“The opportunity to become broiler farmers doesn’t happen very much,” said Elise.
In fact, the New Entrant Program hadn’t run in over a decade, so they realized it was a rare chance to get into the business.
“The chicken industry saw a need for bringing new people in,” she said.
Construction on their 1,400 sq. metre barn began on June 3, 2019, and the couple placed the first flock on Jan. 7, 2020, the coldest week of the winter.
Temperatures dipped to -40 C for several days in a row. On one of those days the power went out.
“We have a very reliant back-up generator,” said Elise.
Jesse said temperature regulation is a tricky business for a Saskatchewan chicken barn. The baby chicks need it to be warmer than 30 C inside the facility.
“When it’s -40 C outside, that’s quite a difference,” he said.
He had to learn quickly about how to run the de-icing cycle on the heat exchanger. Luckily help is only a phone call away.
“During these times we’ve had all sorts of support from some reliable people,” said Jesse.
“That’s one thing that has been great about the chicken industry is there’s lots of good resources you can call on.”
On occasion, they seek advice from poultry veterinarians, feed representatives, processors and fellow farmers.
But for the most part it is trial and error, learning on the go and making minor adjustments to the production process.
Elise recalls a conversation she had with her grandmother when they were first getting started.
“She said, ‘well, how many hired men are you going to get?’ And I said, ‘just us two,’ ” said Elise.
“She was like, ‘no way.’ ”
Elise’s grandfather used to build large turkey barns in the 1950s before quota existed.
“My dad was pretty excited to see how this would be 60 years later. His mind was kind of blown,” she said.
Jesse said it is a highly automated business. They need a little help when the chicks are first placed and when they go to market but that’s about it.
The industry works on eight-week cycles. The couple keeps the birds for 34 days of that cycle. The remainder of the period is used for clean-up, repairs and preparation for the next shipment.
And little Tori and Leah are there with dad helping spread out the straw for the next wave of 20,000 bright yellow, chirping chicks.